I’m having fun in my art studio these days. After deciding one day to simply pretend I had some natural artistic ability, I seemed to have tricked myself into believing that I really do have some inherent talent. Whether there actually is or is not some strange thing we call talent has often been debated, but let’s just skip over all of that. The point here is that regardless of any talent I may or may not have, I’ve been coming into my studio and acting like an artist. It’s had an amazing effect on me and my art. Everywhere I look… well, it’s like an explosion of color and designs and images.
I’ve recently broadened my horizons a bit in art and have begun working with oil pastels. I still have a lot to learn about how to use them, but my lack of knowledge and proper technique hasn’t stopped me from painting with them.
My pastel works are small and simple. Many have been inspired by Joy Ting’s “Daily Practice” class on Creative Bug. Each day I follow along as she uses both colored pencils and oil pastels for a quick little art practice. We worked with florals at first, moved on to plants, and finally began doing small landscapes.
Here was my first landscape from my Daily Practice.
When I completed this “quick study” — it was done in only a few minutes — I didn’t really like it. Now, to be honest, I’d say that this is definitely one of those drawings — or a painting, rather — that looks better from a distance than it does up close. But, again, I didn’t care for it. So, I shrugged and set it aside. I’d done my daily practice, and that was that.
Later, however, I glanced over, saw this mountain scene and thought, “Where did that come from?” It was so lovely! I was shocked when I realized that I was looking at my own work. “I did that?” I blinked in surprise. Yes, indeed, from a distance, it looked good. Really good.
This oil pastel painting, you’ll notice if you look closely at the notations, was done using a new set of Pentel Oil Pastels. A large part of learning to use oil pastels involves understanding that not all oil pastels are the same. Here is an area where I’m most definitely broadening my experiential horizons by trying a lot of different materials.
My first set of oil pastels was an inexpensive set by Daler-Rowney. I picked it up at Walmart as a “starter set”. Of course, I had no idea how to use oil pastels, so I can’t say that I got much good out of it. Until recently, I really hadn’t used it much.
The second set of oil pastels I bought was a 50-piece set of Cray-Pas “Expressionist” by Sakura. I bought this set for one reason and one reason only: it was the set Matt Fussell was using for a landscape lesson at The Virtual Instructor. I was sure that if I used the same oil pastels he was using, I’d have a better chance of succeeding with the project. I did, in fact, come away with a very nice landscape. This was definitely a “work of art” for me.
After completing this landscape, I attempted a couple others, failed miserably, and decided that maybe oil pastels and I just weren’t meant to be. I set them aside and until recently I’d never gone back to them.
Signing up for Joy Ting’s “Daily Practice” session required me to get out my oil pastels and give them another chance. I was surprised to discover how much I enjoyed working with them in the first few “floral” studies I did. Of course, I still had no real idea of how to use them correctly. I just followed along with Joy Ting the best I could. But I wanted more information about oil pastels than I was getting from the quick practice sessions.
I went looking, found more information, and learned a lot about pastels. You can re-visit the post where I shared what I’d found online: How to Use Oil Pastels. This was when I came to understand that oil pastels weren’t a “one-size-fits-all” sort of art material. Different brands have different consistencies. Some oil pastels are well-suited for one type of application, but not so practical for other methods.
Because being able to blend my oil pastels was important to me — I was really struggling with this — I splurged on a gorgeous set of Senneliers. It’s a small set — 12 pieces — and after using these oil pastels, I can’t wait to purchase a larger set. I love them. They are so soft and creamy… like lipstick, according to Katrina Dunn from Katrina Gunn Art. She’s right. Needless to say, they blend beautifully. Also needless to say, they can be quite messy. I used that set of Senneliers for this landscape.
Definitely rather messy, but I see so much in this painting that I like. I was very happy to have that set of Senneliers.
But then, I felt a need to buy another set of oil pastels. Once again, I was influenced by the instructor I was following. Joy Ting uses two sets of oil pastels, one of which is the Pentel brand. From what I’ve read online, this is a very popular “student brand” that is used in many art classes. The oil pastels can be purchased in bulk specifically for classrooms. Or, of course, individual sets can be purchased. I was surprised at how inexpensive they were, and the idea of having “student grade” oil pastels didn’t faze me. After all, Joy Ting uses them, so if they’re good enough for her, they’re surely good enough for me.
I also bought this set because I wanted something that might blend slightly better than my Daler-Rowney set, but which would be easier to draw with than my chunky Expressionist pastels. I was not disappointed with the Pentel brand. They are, indeed, easier to blend, yet they’re not so soft and creamy as my precious Senneliers. And believe me, the price is right!
I hurried to the studio as soon as I received my new Pentels, and that’s when I painted this “Earth Day” scene in green.
Now, you might think that this is where the story ends. After all, I surely have every sort of oil pastel stick now that I could possibly need… right?
Wrong. Although it might seem that I have an oil pastel for everything, it wasn’t long before I was online again ordering another set. This purchase was “Gallery” oil pastels made by Mungyo. At the time I placed the order, I didn’t realize that the second set Joy Ting uses is a Gallery set. I chose the set after doing a bit of research. I was looking specifically for something softer than the Pentel, but not quite so soft — and not nearly as pricey — as the Senneliers. The Gallery set — 48 pieces — seemed to meet all my requirements.
Now, let me show you another recent landscape. This is also a “quick study” made as part of Joy Ting’s Daily Practice class. No reference photo was used; this was painted completely from imagination.
Don’t look too closely, please. This was just a “quick study” — again, painted in a matter of minutes. I didn’t do a lot of blending on this, simply because it’s done on kraft paper, and I like the sort of “unfinished feeling” about it with the paper showing through.
I started this painting using my Expressionist oil pastels. They were close at hand. I knew I needed to do a bit of “line drawing” to shape the mountains. Fine. But then, when it came time to add definition to the mountain, to suggest all those lights and shadows, I had no choice but to reach for my smooth Senneliers. Oh, how they glide across the paper! How easy it was to blend colors on those mountain peaks. And how costly it is to use them! Yes… every time I pick up a Sennelier oil pastel, dollar signs flash through my mind. They are very precious — in so many ways. I don’t want to waste them on quick studies or daily practice drawings. I want to save those gorgeous Senneliers for those times when nothing else will do.
In the meantime, my Mungyo Gallery oil pastels will “fill in” and give me what I need. At least, that was my hope. At the moment, I’m not sure how I feel about these newest oil pastels. Here are my first two attempts at using them. The results aren’t pretty.
So, what was going on here?
These two images were done as part of my “Daily Practice” with Joy Ting’s class. I was excited to use the Gallery Pastels, and I really wanted to like them. As it stands right now, I’m not thrilled by the pastels, but I know I haven’t given them a fair chance yet. This morning’s Daily Practice was another “black paper” practice. This isn’t pastel paper; it’s black construction paper. I think that makes a difference.
Part of the purpose behind this practice was to give us a chance to see how various colors looked on the black paper. For the first exercise — the one on the left — I just drew along with Joy as she created another imaginary mountain landscape. I played with colors in much the same way she did, just putting down a few strokes to see how that hue looked on the black paper. She left her drawing unblended, but I went ahead and tried to blend mine. I had some success in blending the reds and oranges together — the pastel was thicker there — but overall, I found it very difficult to do any blending. Is it because of the oil pastels themselves? Is it because I’m still learning how to blend? Is it because of the black construction paper? I’m guessing that it’s probably a bit of all three.
For the second practice, I grabbed a reference photo. I didn’t really watch to see what Joy was doing or how she was doing it. I just did my own thing. As with the first exercise, the results were not what I’d hoped. I finally gave up on it. After trying to blend the blues and whites in the sky, I was feeling a bit frustrated. I’d “blended” right over the mountain peaks, so I took a light blue pastel and drew in a few lines, then closed the box and set the Gallery pastels aside.
A short time later, I got the pastels out again. In the interest of fairness, I made one more pastel painting, this time using kraft paper as I’d done with two of my previous paintings. I felt this would give me a chance to more accurately compare the Mungyo Gallery Pastels with the others I’ve been using.
There were some things I liked better, but overall, the end result was still quite disappointing.
You can see a lot of the brown kraft paper showing through. It was all but impossible for me to get a smooth even coverage of color with the Gallery Pastels. They seem best suited for making lots of loose marks. This particular painting looked a lot better, I think, before I tried doing any blending. As for the blending process, it was difficult no matter how I did it. I tried blending with a tissue. I tried blending with the tips of my fingers. I tried blending with a cotton swab. I tried blending with a tortillon. The tortillon worked best, but that’s not saying a lot, as you can see.
I’ll continue playing around with all of my pastels, and I’m sure my techniques will improve, as will my understanding of what each different oil pastel can do and when best to apply each different one. As I’ve learned from various “mark-making” practices — such as those using branches, twigs, and other natural tools — different materials will, of course, have different uses. With oil pastels — perhaps more than with any other art media — it’s important to know when and how to make use of the different consistencies and the different methods of application.
If I want to do loose, casual sketches, my Gallery pastels will be good. They’re also good for adding spots of color. For more detailed drawing I have my Daler-Rowney set, my Cray-Pas Expressionists, and my Pentel pastels. And for smooth, soft blending, there are my luscious Senneliers.
All of this has definitely helped me broaden my horizons when it comes to oil pastels, but it’s also broadening my horizons in all of my art practice. I’m enjoying my oil pastels. I want to pursue this. Going forward I’ll be focusing on those three primary areas I love — graphite drawing, loose watercolor, landscape oil painting — and I’ll be adding a fourth. Oil pastels. It’s fun to learn new things. and I have a lot more to learn about these beautiful sticks of color.